No 'Pains,' No Gains
Bringing out a new Mary J. Blige album is a big challenge. That's because Blige, anointed "the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" in 1992, is on a 15-year multi-platinum run as one of the most electric performersBringing out a new Mary J. Blige album is a big challenge. That's because Blige, anointed "the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" in 1992, is on a 15-year multi-platinum run as one of the most electric performers in the urban world, with a wide-ranging crossover base that straddles the R&B, hip-hop, pop and even AC markets.
She'll spin the wheel again this week with "Growing Pains" (Geffen), which follows the smash 2005 album "The Breakthrough." Says Blige, "I started out with this concept of growing pains because that's how I was feeling during the  Grammys: 'Am I good enough for this; do I really deserve all this in my life?' But something in my head said, 'Yes, you are. Now you're forced to rapidly grow up in this area in order to achieve and get the things you want.' "
Featuring collaborations with Ne-Yo (who wrote the track "Fade Away" from a poem by Blige), Timbaland, Akon, the Dream and Tricky Stewart (the team behind Rihanna's "Umbrella"), Bryan-Michael Cox and the Clutch, among others, "Growing Pains" finds Blige coming to terms with her success, particularly in the wake of the last album's three Grammy Award wins.
"This is just the work to get to that part-where nothing bothers you and nothing is stressing you out," says Blige, who also gets help from rapper Ludacris on "Grown Woman" and adopts her strident Brook-Lynn alter ego on the track "Nowhere Fast." "That's where I'm headed and that's where I am, but there's a whole other level of that that I have to get to. That might take a lifetime, but that's where I'm headed."